Authors: Rhiannon Frater
As The World Dies
As the World Dies: Untold Tales V.
Copyright 2013 by Rhiannon Frater
All Rights Reserved.
Edited by Felicia
Interior formatting by Kody Boye
Cover Artwork and Layout by Philip Rogers
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events and situation are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, or historical events, is purely coincidental.
The three stories you are about to read are a perfect segue into SIEGE, the last book in the AS THE WORLD DIES zombie trilogy. Every character in the stories plays a role in SIEGE in some capacity. In some cases, the journeys started in these short stories come full circle in SIEGE.
The stories in UNTOLD TALES VOLUME 2 provide an intriguing backdrop to the events in the third book.
I hope you enjoy all three stories and the small glimpses you will get into the lives of the people who inhabit the AS THE WORLD DIES universe.
February 21, 2012
Dedicated with much love and affection to the fans of the AS THE WORLD DIES zombie trilogy
The biker medium was a last minute addition to the original online version of AS THE WORLD DIES. He was a direct inspiration of my friend (during a much more surly time in his life), George Russell, who confronted me one day at work and demanded to know why he wasn’t in the story.
“You know I’d be there,” he said, his blue eyes piercing.
I considered this declaration for a moment, and then realized he was right.
That was nearly eight years ago. Since then the AS THE WORLD DIES story was self-published as a trilogy, then picked up by genre giant, Tor. In each incarnation of the story, Rune’s role grew larger. In fact, Rune solved a major problem I had in the original version of SIEGE.
SIEGE was written in mid-2006. It was a difficult time in my life. I struggled to complete the last part of the story for the fans of the online serial. I had some cool sequences in the center of the book, but it was a bit of a jumble as I tried to figure out how to notify the people of the fort of the massive horde of zombies coming their way. The original result was an awesome scene where Greta tilts her helicopter so the blades tear apart the zombies rushing down a hill toward a power plant that the fort has taken over. After seeing that almost exact same scene in two zombie movies, I pulled the whole sequence.
That left me with the difficult question of how to let the fort know in time that the zombies were coming.
Rune was my solution. (You’ll have to read SIEGE to find out what I mean).
The ghosts of AS THE WORLD DIES were in the story from the beginning. I loved the idea of exploring both the metaphysical and physical fallout of the zombie rising. Those epic words from
Dawn of the Dead
were an inspiration: “When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
Well, I thought, the bodies are walking, but where are the souls/spirits?
Alas, in the Tor version of the AS THE WORLD DIES trilogy, it was an editorial decision (which I agreed with) to cut down on the appearance of the ghosts to give them more power when they appeared. I’m not sure it worked. After ghosts appeared in the first two books, people were still surprised by their influence in SIEGE.
Rune’s Story is my way of
exploring the ghosts trapped in the terrible aftermath of their deaths at the teeth and hands of the zombies. I hope you enjoy this take on the zombocalypse.
One more thing...
Rune was based loosely on my friend during the bitter aftermath of a divorce. Since then, George has gone on to marry a wonderful woman named Lisa and he wears a grin more often than a scowl. His doppelgänger, in the meantime, is a pretty bleak fella at times. Though Rune has a gentle heart, a noble spirit, and a deep love for his daughter and grandson, he can also be a very mean bastard when circumstances call for it, as you’re about to find out.
The Back Roads of Zombie Hell
Inside the small tent pitched on the hard-baked Texas soil, Rune snorted in his sleep, rolled over on his sleeping bag, and mumbled incoherently.
Through the remains of his liquor stupor, Rune heard a familiar voice, but sleep had a vice grip on his throbbing brain. He twitched slightly, but kept on snoring.
“Dad! Wake up!”
Lurching upright, Rune groaned and clutched his head as the dim interior of his small tent swung around him crazily before settling back down. “Fuck me.”
“Dad, no swearing in front of Braden.”
Blinking against the harsh sunlight pouring through the open flap into the tent to form a hot triangle of light near his feet, Rune tried to find his balance and sort out his jumbled thoughts.
“Dad, over here.”
The contrast between the bright sunlight outside and the gloom inside the tent made it difficult to see. His face was both sun and wind burned, so it hurt when he cupped his hands over his eyes
, trying to see into the dim corner of his tent where a shadowy form hunkered.
“Lainey?” Rune whispered, recognizing the figure. His stomach dropped and the sorrow he felt in that moment was crushing. “No, baby, no!”
Crouched in the corner of the tent in the shadows, his daughter held Rune’s two-year-old grandson in her arms, gently rocking him. Miles from civilization, camped out off Interstate 10 on private property, Rune knew there was no way in hell his daughter Lainey could have found him. It could only mean one thing.
“How?” Rune shouted, anger and despair filling him. “How?”
“Dad, it’s okay. It’s over now,” Lainey said in a soft voice.
The words were meant to calm him, but somehow they made him angrier. “Was it my no
-good son-in-law? I knew something’s wrong with that boy! I don’t care if he
a military man. He’s no good! You never should have married him!” Rune wiped at the tears flowing down his cheeks. “I knew it!”
“Dad, please listen to me.”
“Oh, my baby, my baby,” Rune wailed, his icy breath puffing into the morning light. It was growing steadily colder in the tent as the spirit of his daughter sucked the energy from the air to manifest.
Lainey gently rocked Braden as he sat on her lap sucking his thumb, watching Rune with wide blue eyes. “Dad, please. I don’t have much time. You know that. You’re wasting it.”
“Okay, okay,” Rune whispered miserably. He knew she was right, but it was so hard to contain his sorrow. Throughout his life he had encountered the spirits of the dead seeking peace before moving on to the next world. They were limited in their abilities and he understood how much effort his daughter had to be exerting to appear to him. Yet, the pain her presence caused him was almost unbearable. “Okay, baby, talk to me.”
Smoothing Braden’s hair, Lainey spoke, yet her lips did not move. “The world is dying, Dad. Something has gone wrong.”
“Nukes?” Rune had grown up in the Cold War. Lainey and her husband lived in San Antonio near Lackland Air Force Base. It would be one of the primary targets of a strike.
“No, Dad. Something...worse. The dead have come back, Dad. They’ve come back to...kill us.”
“What?” Rune pressed one hand to his forehead.
“Just like the movies, Dad, the dead are coming back to eat us.”
“No, no, no. This is a nightmare. You’re not here and I’m dreaming some stupid ass dream because I went to that zombie store in Vegas.”
“Dad, it’s real! Listen to me! Please!”
Lifting his swollen, tear-filled eyes, Rune nodded slowly despite the desire to deny everything she was saying. He had to keep focused and allow her to speak, for her sake and his own. “Okay, Lainey. I’m listening.”
“Dad, San Antonio is lost. It’s chaos there. Ben dropped us off at the hospital before he left with his unit so I could wait for Mom to finish with her rounds. It was guarded and should have been safe, but they brought all the people who were bitten there. The hospital was overrun almost immediately.” The edges of Lainey’s form began to blur. “We tried to hide, but...”
Now that Rune’s eyesight had adjusted to the gloom, he saw the horrible wounds inflicted on both his daughter and grandson. Moaning with grief, he crawled toward them, but their images wavered and started to fade.
“Don’t come to San Antonio trying to save us,” Lainey said. This time her lips moved and he could see her teeth through a gruesome tear in her cheek. “We’re all gone. Me, Mom, and...” Lainey pressed her lips to Braden’s hair.
“Baby, I don’t understand. This can’t be real,” Rune protested.
“But it is. Right now the whole world is dying. It’s everywhere. Soon there will be only a fraction of humanity left alive.”
“Sweet Jesus,” Rune whispered.
“You can’t die, Dad.
important in this new world of the dead. You have to stay alive.
You have to
. Do you understand?”
Nodding, Rune reached out, his fingers hovering over his precious grandson.
“I can’t hold on any longer,” Lainey said sorrowfully. “We need to move on.”
“Papa,” Braden said in a tremulous voice. “There are monsters.”
“I know, son. I know. But you’re going to go where there are no monsters. Somewhere beautiful and full of fun things to do,” Rune whispered. His emotions were choking him and he could barely talk. “You hold onto your mama and she’s going to take you into the light. Okay?”
Braden nodded, sucking on his thumb.
“That’s my brave boy,” Rune sobbed.
“Dad,” Lainey whispered as she dissolved into the gloom in the tent. “I love you. Stay out of San Antonio. Stay alive.”
Covering his face, Rune wept in despair and anger.
In the aftermath of his very contentious divorce from his wife of twenty-five years, Rune had decided to hit the road on his beloved Harley he’d christened Charlene in honor of his boyhood sweetheart. His destination was Las Vegas and he’d met up with some of his old biker buddies in New Mexico. They had roared into Vegas in one big pack, determined to party as hard as they had for Rune’s bachelor party when they had all been in their early twenties. The drinking and gambling had started immediately. Rune hadn’t sobered up for days.
In retrospect, he should have known something dire was happening in the country. In spite of his drunken state he had seen numerous visitors to the casinos clustered together
, talking in worried voices while others stared at their cellphones with anxious frowns. He hadn’t cared enough to inquire about what was happening since he was too deeply engrossed in purging the memory of his marriage with alcohol.
After the last of his friends had departed to return to their normal lives, Rune had assessed his bank account and decided he, too, should probably return home and wrap up his vacation before he was completely broke.
He should have taken note of the startling amount of police units patrolling the roads on his way out of Vegas, but he’d been busy trying not to appear inebriated. The big military convoy that had sped past him in Arizona had been impressive in size, but he hadn’t thought twice about it. He wasn’t proud of it, but he had kept a steady buzz going through most of Arizona and New Mexico.
Riding through El Paso, Texas in the dead of night, he had noticed a lot of police activity and even heard gunshots. But since it was a border town and the Mexican cartels could be troublesome, he hadn’t paid much heed to the ramped up police presence.
Nothing had actually penetrated his brain through the buzz of liquor until he had woken to see the ghosts of his daughter and grandson in his tent. Now all he had seen fit together like puzzle pieces. Rune sat in his tent, sweaty, dirty, reeking of liquor, and weeping as he listened to the frightened voice of an announcer on his small portable radio.
For the last two hours he’d listened to the end of the world. The voices breaking through the squawks and buzzing of the static delivered news that became increasingly dire. The unbelievable news reports about the dead returning to life to feast on the living sounded like something out of a horror movie. He probably would have thought it was all a joke, some
War of the Worlds
-type hoax, if not for Lainey’s appearance.
He’d finished up the bottle of Jack Daniels after Lainey had faded away, but it hadn’t been enough to get him drunk. The slight buzz had helped with the hangover, but now the headache was coming back. His stomach was as empty as the rest of him. When his marriage had finally ended, he had believed he could never feel so hollow and alone ever again. He had been terribly wrong.
The Glock on his lap was a heavy weight, both reassuring and tormenting. Fully loaded, it was ready to do its job. Twice Rune had lifted it to his head, but both times he remembered Lainey’s words.
Rune was to stay alive.
It was just like his daughter to put him in this sort of situation. The temptation to pull the trigger and join her and his grandson in the afterlife was nearly overwhelming, but her admonition wouldn’t let him do it.
“What did you mean?” he whispered in despair.
How was he supposed to be important in a world full of the dead?
Rubbing his face, he picked up his cellphone again and tried to call Lainey’s number. He wanted to believe it had all been a terrible dream, but the “all circuits are busy” message only confirmed it wasn’t. Dropping the phone, he pressed the Glock to his forehead, the metal a cold comfort to his throbbing, overheated flesh.
“Dammit,” he whispered angrily. “Dammit!”
It would be so easy to just end it all, but he couldn’t let himself go against the wishes of his daughter. For years he had resisted walking out the front door and ending his marriage because of the pleas of his daughter. She had been the only thing keeping him in a loveless marriage full of lies. When his ex-wife—may she not rest in peace—had announced she was divorcing him and throwing him out so her boyfriend could move in, it was Lainey who kept him from doing anything that would send him to prison. Hell, it was Lainey who had urged him to go to Vegas and blow off steam.
Now his daughter was the one keeping him from joining her in the afterlife.
“Oh, gawd, Lainey...Braden...” Rune whispered. He was blubbering like a baby and he didn’t care. Though he was known for being a bad ass his whole life, his daughter was the one thing that humbled him.
The hours ticked away and slowly his tears subsided. Finally, he tucked the Glock away and stumbled out of the tent to relieve himself.
On the edge of the Texas Hill Country, he had pulled off onto private property and was camped illegally under a copse of trees. The view in the late morning sun was majestic and humbling. The wide expanse of blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds spread out over the green dappled hills. There was a slight spring chill in the air, but the wildflowers weren’t blooming yet.
After finishing his business, he stood silently under a juniper tree and gazed across the valley to the hills in the distance. The world around him was both beautiful and peaceful. It was difficult for him to believe that his daughter and grandson were gone. Hell, that the whole world was gone. Yet, he felt it in his bones. He felt the truth of his daughter’s words and the news reports to the marrow. The way he had always felt things he shouldn’t know throughout his life. Whatever gave him the ability to see and communicate with ghosts also gave him precognition about death.
Today, he felt the weight of millions upon millions of deaths upon him.
“Why, Lord, why me?” Rune cried out. “Why do I have this burden to bear?”
The only answer was the breeze blowing through the boughs of the tree above his head.